The Newton Housing Authority is requesting Community Preservation Act and Community Development Block Grant funds to produce new affordable housing developments and to rehabilitate and preserve the units currently owned by the Citizens for Affordable Housing in Newton Development Organization (CAN-DO).
Members of the Community Preservation Committee and the Planning and Development Board unanimously approved the request on Tuesday, Feb. 11, sending the process into the next procedural steps for the Housing Authority to acquire the funds.
The updated plans were presented and reviewed during the Planning and Development Board meeting at Newton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 3. Board members, housing and community development employees, and Newton residents shared comments and concerns about the effectiveness of affordable and accessible housing during the public hearing.
“We’ve been talking a lot in general about diversity in units,” said Barney Heath, director of the Newton Planning and Development Department. “We’ve been talking about something other than single family, because Newton doesn’t have a lot of options or units that are accessible, elevator buildings, and smaller units at different price ranges.”
CAN-DO is a “community-based non-profit developer of affordable housing for individuals and families with low and moderate incomes,” according to its website. The organization’s goal is to “educate the community about the need for housing opportunities for Newton’s economically diverse population, and to engage residents in creating and supporting viable solutions.”
Since CAN-DO’s partnership with Metro West Collaborative Development ended in June 2018, the organization has been functioning with only a board of directors. The nonprofit has stayed afloat as an entity but will no longer own or manage property in Newton.
The Newton Housing Authority is proposing to take over the management and ownership of the affordable housing units in the organization’s possession to expand on CAN-DO’s properties, according to Gabriel Holbrow, community planner and engagement specialist for the Planning and Development Department.
Newton falls under the Boston metro region limits as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, when it comes to analyzing area median income (AMI) and regulating the criteria for affordable housing eligibility.
In Newton, 100 percent of the of the AMI for a household of four is $113,300 and 80 percent of the AMI for a four-person household is $89,200, according to data presented at the meeting. Residents with a gross income at or below 80 percentmeet the maximum threshold for what qualifies for many of Newton’s affordable housing programs.
Josephine McNeil co-founded CAN-DO in 1994 and served as the executive director before retiring in 2017 after 23 years of service to the nonprofit organization. She addressed the concern that hard-to-reach populations with low incomes are not adequately represented in the plan.
“When it comes to housing, the emphasis should be on low, not moderate, [income] and below because we are dealing with moderate in other ways,” McNeil told board members during the public hearing. “Our inclusionary zoning focuses on moderate; it does not address the people whose incomes are below 50 percent. By your own statistics, that’s the group who’s in most need of housing.”
Many low-income residents in need are working families with single parents who have to juggle attending meetings to advocate for themselves with long work days and the challenge of hiring a babysitter during evening public hearings, according to McNeil. She suggested varying committee meeting times to better suit the needs of this population so they can be present.
The consolidated plan also addresses accessibility for the disabled and Newton’s growing senior population.
Newton Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Jini Fairley works full-time from City Hall to coordinate and consult with the planning and development team and the Newton Housing and Community Development Division to complete accessible projects.
CDBG funds finance accessibility initiatives in Newton. The Commission on Disability, Fairley, and other city departments collaborate to design accessible project plans. The goal is to make existing buildings and spaces in Newton accessible, according to Fairley. The COD works to be conservative and efficient when directing the funds to city projects, she said.
“I’m very happy to support this plan and to keep it as our guideline going forward for the next five years,” said Fairley.
Acquiring these CDBG federal funds will give the Newton Housing Authority the financial support to pursue the improvements for both accessible and affordable housing.
“CDBG is looking at providing decent housing, suitable living environments, and really focusing on supporting and expanding opportunities for low to moderate income individuals,” said Amanda Berman, director of housing and community development.
The consolidated plan calls for moving part of the desired funds toward improvements in human services, architectural access, and neighborhood improvements in addition to fair housing in Newton.
The Planning and Development Board will need to approve a plan illustrating the expected use of CDBG funds for the upcoming projects. There will be a public hearing on April 6 to review final drafts of the FY21 Annual Action Plan, outlining one year of the five-year consolidated plan, and the FY21-25 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice. The submission deadline for the FY21-25 consolidated plan and the FY21 AAP to HUD is May 15.
Gwyneth Burns can be reached at email@example.com.